This Is What Periods Look Like For Women Around The World

Natalie Gil

Thanks to the much-needed noise around period poverty in recent years, we're increasingly aware of the fact that, for many women, sanitary products aren't readily available. They're expensive, and being unable to afford them is a source of shame and stress for many women. The UK government finally took a crucial step to end period poverty by announcing it would provide sanitary products for free at all secondary schools in England from September;

But millions of women and girls around the world use other methods of managing their menstrual cycles each month, whether that's because they're unable to afford sanitary products, or for environmental, health or disposal reasons. A new photo series from the charity WaterAid showcases the myriad unsurprising and inventive ways in which women manage their periods around the world. From Australia to Zambia, women and girls are fashioning their own sanitary pads and menstruation skirts from unexpected materials – and while they might not be women's ideal solution, they do the job.

"Women shouldn’t have to worry about where they might go, how they might manage their periods, or whether the appropriate facilities including running water and adequate disposal will be available," says Louisa Gosling, WaterAid's quality programmes manager. The charity is calling on governments to prioritise access to sanitary products and appropriate sanitation, among other things, "to ensure that women are not excluded from society once a month as a result of a natural process.”

From a menstrual cup to cloth, a menstruation skirt and homemade sanitary pads, there are many ways in which women make do, while battling the stigma that continues to surround periods.

Pakistan

"My mom told me to use cloth during my periods. I cannot afford to use sanitary pads," says Saba, 18, in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad.

WaterAid/ Sibtain Haider.

A piece of cloth to be used as sanitary pad in Islamabad, Pakistan.

“I find the use of cloth difficult and it makes me uncomfortable," Saba says. "I can’t use it properly and I feel irritated. I keep worrying because I do not want others to know when I am menstruating.”

WaterAid/ Sibtain Haider.

Uganda

Lepera Joyce, 23, shows her goatskin skirt which she uses when she is on her period. "I use this goatskin skirt because it’s always available," she says. "It’s our traditional sanitary pad." Lepera Joyce is pictured in Nakapiripirt District, in the country's Karamoja Region.

WaterAid/ James Kiyimba.

The goatskin skirt which Lepera Joyce uses to manage bleeding when she is on her period.

"I don’t pay anyone to use the skin," she says. "Other pads are expensive. Even if my skirt gets old, I make another one since we have many goats. My grandmother taught me how to make and use the goatskin skirt during menstruation."

WaterAid/ James Kiyimba.

UK

27-year-old Hilary, in London, relies on reusable sanitary pads to manage her period. "The environment is a big factor for why I use reusable sanitary pads. It’s about reducing waste."

WaterAid/ Billy Barraclough.

Hilary's reusable sanitary pad.

"I use a combination of different reusable sanitary pads, cotton or bamboo, when I am on my period. A group of women in India makes some of them as a means of sustainable income. It is important to me that they are made of natural materials because I find it most comfortable and eco friendly. Fortunately, I am in the privileged position to think of comfort when it comes to sanitary towels."

WaterAid/ Billy Barraclough.

Claire, 40, in Manchester, uses a menstrual cup during her period to reduce waste, although she acknowledges it is "more hassle" than pads and tampons. "It needs boiling to clean it properly. We have a ‘Mooncup pan’ in which I boil it and sometimes I have to rush into the kitchen to stop someone from boiling an egg in it."

WaterAid/ David Severn.

Claire's Mooncup.

"My main consideration is that these products are better for the environment. I made a lifestyle choice to reduce waste. Before becoming more environmentally conscious I used regular supermarket brands."

WaterAid/ David Severn.

Zambia

Limpo, 22, cuts cow patties to size for use during menstruation. "I do not put the cow patties directly on my skin, I wrap it in a cloth and place it nicely to capture the flow without staining other clothes," she explains. "I like this method because cow patties soak up a lot of blood before they are completely soaked. I go about doing all sorts of things without any trouble." She is pictured in the country's Mongu District.

WaterAid/ Chileshe Chanda.

A cow pattie used by Limpo during her period.

"I cannot say that I am completely comfortable and happy using these materials to manage my periods. If I had an alternative, I would use other stuff. It is just that I don’t have an option, so I keep using this anyway. I have never seen or experienced any complications with cow patties."

WaterAid/ Chileshe Chanda.

Australia

Steph, 27, uses tampons, pads and an IUD to manage her period. "I have an IUD to help manage my endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome, which in turn helps manage my menstrual cycle as well." She is pictured in Melbourne in September 2018.

WaterAid/ David Freeman.

Steph's tampons.

"I use brand name pads and tampons as needed. I get them from the supermarket, but often forget to restock and my wonderful partner goes out to buy them for me. Luckily he is very comfortable with all this!"

WaterAid/ David Freeman.

Zambia

Nowana, 45, pictured in front of her house in Zambia's Mongu District in August 2018, uses powdered cow patties in a pouch during her period. "I would prefer pads to cow patties if I had a choice. They are easy and already made, they are disposable and don’t require a lengthy process like the one I go through when using cow patties."

WaterAid/ Chileshe Chanda.

Powdered cow patties and a pouch.

"Our parents taught us about the use of cow patties a long time ago before we even heard about pads. I was shown this method by my grandmother and I have been using it since that time," says Nowana. "Money is scarce and I cannot afford to buy pads, they are expensive and that’s why I use this method."

WaterAid/ Chileshe Chanda.

A 19-year-old named Doris, holds lint cotton she uses during menstruation in Kazungula District, Zambia.

"When am on my period, I stop playing soccer or any other sporting activities. I can’t run or play games with my friends." She explains her method: "I get my pieces of cloth from my mother’s old and worn out chitenge. As for the cotton wool, I pick it from the cotton fields and stock it up for use when need arises."

WaterAid/ Chileshe Chanda.

Nepal

"Ready made pads are costly and if you do not dispose of them properly it will pollute the environment," says Sangita, 32, who holds up a homemade reusable sanitary pad in Nepal's Kavre District. "In a municipality like ours, where there is no plan for managing solid waste, pads can contaminate our water source if they are not disposed of properly. So looking at the wider impact, homemade pads are safer."

WaterAid/ Mani Karmacharya.

Uganda

Munyes, 44, in Uganda's Karamoja region, finds it "easy and very normal to make a hole in the ground and sit on top of it for blood to drain in it." She explains: "I find managing my period using this method very convenient because buying sanitary pads is costly and sometimes when blood comes there is no time to run to the shop to buy sanitary pads. I can’t run, letting people see my blood; I would rather make a hole in the ground to sit."

WaterAid/ James Kiyimba.

Malawi

Tamala, 23, in Kasungu, Malawi, uses a piece of cloth called nyanda during her period. "Cleaning the nyanda can be problematic for us and our families, particularly with issues of hygiene and sanitation."

WaterAid/ Dennis Lupenga.

Nyanda, a small piece of cloth used as a sanitary pad in Kasungu, Malawi, which is placed inside underwear.

Tamala explains: "However, some among us cannot afford underwear, so in that case, we secure the nyanda in place by tearing a long and thin piece of the rag and tie it around the waist to hold the fabric tight in place."

WaterAid/ Dennis Lupenga.

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